There is no political sovereignty outside of technological independence. So how do states concretely address this ambition in practice? Some countries have elected to focus on (1) building the industrial, research, and innovation ecosystem, (2) securing digital and telecommunication businesses and infrastructure, and (3) regulating the digital sector and data protection. One blind spot remains the articulation between digital sovereignty, foreign policy, and matters of international security and governance.

Digital technologies play a structuring role in building the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) of tomorrow. The future of a Digital LAC depends on digital tools and technologies that will interweave economic, societal and security issues. More fundamentally, these have become “sovereignty” issues. LAC’s freedom of action depends on this economic and digital sovereignty. Reinforcing digital sovereignty through regulation and foreign policy, securing industries and infrastructure, and supporting strategic sectors of the economy are key priorities for all governments emerging from two years of pandemic disruption. This three-pronged approach is central to digital independence.

LAC countries also need to strengthen the region’s technological independence and their ability to anticipate the next strategic advances. Already the new iPhone 14 has critical safety capabilities such as Crash Detection and Emergency SOS via satellite. The iPhone 14 also uses e-Sim cards that can connect a user to any operator offering eSIM services. eSIMs can be built into drones, wearables, sensors, and location trackers. Since they are reprogrammable when used on industrial equipment, they can be managed in bulk off-site. This offers companies the freedom to change service plans or providers on thousands of pieces of equipment with the flick of a switch.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the UNDP Digital Readiness Assessment was initiated in January 2022, during a state and private sector virtual workshop. At the milestone event, participants completed the survey using the Kobo Collect platform. A public survey was launched after the workshop with support from a call centre and promoted on social media to broaden inclusion. The survey tool was structured around more than 140 single-choice items, multiple-choice, and free-text items. The UNDP Chief Digital Office, the UNDP Small Island Developing States, and the UNDP Global Centre for Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development teams were the leads on the data analysis and reporting phases of this study.

The UNDP Digital Readiness Assessment instrument is a non-representative digital survey-based tool that offers quick, high-level insights into a country’s digital strengths and opportunities, as perceived and experienced by citizens. The Digital Readiness Assessment was developed by the UNDP Chief Digital Office and has seven sections that examine perspectives on strategy, infrastructure, government, regulation, business, people, and socio-demographic questions. The method targets civil society organizations, the private sector, captains of industry and business associations, local and central government stakeholders, and the public.

The report disaggregates the final score across five pillars: Infrastructure, Government, Regulation, Business, and People. Additionally, the Digital Readiness Assessment examines the status of root digital catalysts such as: data exchange, digital identity, the digital payment ecosystem, and the overall strategic path for the transformation effort to have a firm footing. The UNDP report states that “The digital readiness of Trinidad and Tobago is strong and is considered ‘systematic’–meaning the country is systematically advancing in key areas of digital transformation based on identified priority areas”.

On Infrastructure, the Report states that mobile and fixed broadband are affordable and enhancements of last-mile availability, access, and reliability will further buttress the transformation effort. On Government, the report applauds the establishment of a new and dedicated Ministry of Digital Transformation and supports all efforts to nurture “stronger cross-agency coordination and whole-of-government capacity building”. There is also a window of opportunity to rapidly enhance the opportunity to improve Open Data and augment financial and human resources to drive the transformation process.

On Regulation, the Report recommends systematic explorations that have the potential to futureproof development of the digital economy. Specific reference is made to expediting the Cyber Security Governance work plan, data protection reforms, and addressing issues around e-signatures, and e-payments legislation. All of these will facilitate quick alignment with digital economy priorities that will foster and nurture an enabling environment for SMEs to drive the competitiveness of indigenous companies.

On Business, the report highlights the digital skills gap and recommends buttressing the role of digital in value creation for SMEs as building back better becomes the focus after the pandemic. The report also features the unique opportunity to engage the digital diaspora and to leverage high mobile use to catalyse FinTech.

On the People pillar of the report, it is noted that there is already a robust digital literacy foundation and an appetite for digital products that are both reflected in high mobile penetration and the use of social media. The report cites the rich opportunity to create digital content and to accelerate the development of citizen developers and digital expertise in youth, as well as creating an ethos of lifelong digital upskilling. The report extols the work of the Universal Service Fund, the establishment of ICT Access Centres, and the deployment of the Digital Inclusion Survey, and describes these landmark achievements as promising steps towards digital independence.